Judge Jim Thomas froze like a statue when hyding from his mummy, so as not to scream with fear.
Four Creepy Classics (almost) from the Hammer Films Archives.
Icons of Horror: Hammer Films brings together four minor classics from Hammer Studios. Each of these films illustrates some of the particular strengths and weaknesses of many Hammer films. None of these films is truly great, though a couple flirt with greatness. Still, if you're at all a fan of horror movies, this is an enjoyable collection.
The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb
Hammer's second mummy movie has nothing to do with the first (1959's classic The Mummy), but instead brings a fresh twist to an old genre. Adam Beauchamp turns out to be the mummy's brother, Be-Antef, cursed by his father to eternal life—he can only die at the hands of his brother—you know, the brother he had killed? That's a pretty kick-ass curse—unless, of course, if you're the cursed. So once the tomb of Ra-Antef is discovered, Beauchamp is looking for ways to bring the mummy to life…so that his brother can kill him. Hammer was never afraid of tweaking the stories as needed, or of introducing unexpected twists. Where they occasionally went wrong is in the development. Way too much time is spent on the sideshow subplot—in addition, Adam's encyclopedic knowledge of an unknown Egyptian prince pretty much tags him as a villain of some stripe or another almost immediately. While it takes too damn long for the main plot to get off the ground, once it does, it does so with a vengeance. Acting is a little uneven—well, it would be more accurate to say that everyone does an excellent job but Jeanne Roland, whose sole talent is filling out low-cut costumes. There's something of a kitchen sink aspect to the movie, with its odd mix of horror, mystery, and thriller, but it somehow manages to work.
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll tries to offer a deceptively complex take on the Stevenson story. The obvious change is the eschewing of the good/evil dynamic in favor of the more complex Nietztchian archetype. But that approach is further enhances by the makeup decisions. Director Terence Fisher covers up Paul Massie's good looks with a beard, wig, and colored contacts—and makes that the face of Jekyll; these facial coverings become symbols of the societal restraints holding Jekyll back. When they are removed, we get Hyde—not a brutish Hyde, but an amoral one. Fisher relies on lighting and odd camera angles, along with slightly exaggerated facial expressions, to convey Hyde's Otherness. All of the other characters follow society's dictates to some degree or another, but not Hyde. When he fails to seduce Kitty directly, he offers to absolve Paul's considerable debts if Paul will arrange for Hyde to sleep with Kitty, but for all his caddish behavior, there are limits to what Paul will do. It is an all too rare delight to see Christopher Lee get to play a more traditional character, and see him do so with a wide emotional range. Also keep an eye out for a young Oliver Reed as a dance hall bouncer.
Because a good chunk of the film is spent developing Hyde's amoral character—as opposed to a more violent, evil Hyde—the middle of the film tends to drag; in particular, there are several sequences in a dance hall that play out a bit too long. A secondary problem is that Jekyll himself is almost a nonentity. He goes through the "what have I done" motions, but he is supposed to be a scientist—what has he learned through all of this? The ending is perhaps more perfunctory than one would expect, though it's not without a sense of poetic justice. Hyde kills Paul, rapes and kills Kitty, and frames Jekyll for the crimes, thinking that the threat of jail will force Jekyll into allowing Hyde to remain dominant. But as Hyde finishes his statement at the inquest, Jekyll, gaining control one last time, forces a transformation from Hyde to Jekyll right in front of the police. Jekyll is immediately taken into custody; presumably, he (and Hyde with him) will summarily receive a life sentence, if not worse. Ultimately, though, there's a sense that the ideas are never fully developed.
The Gorgon is classic Hammer Horror: atmosphere galore, strong performances. However, the plot itself is an absolute mess, albeit a strangely compelling one. Really, it's almost as though they grabbed a werewolf script off the shelf, replaced "werewolf" with "Gorgon," "torn apart" with "turned to stone," and had done (The Gorgon only appears during the full moon). So many questions! Why is that now, after thousands of years, the spirit of the Gorgon has possessed a human? Why does Namaroff finally decide to take action against the Gorgon? There are too many unanswered questions such as these and too many extraneous elements. Of the four films, this one is perhaps the most frustrating, because it appears to be only a rewrite or two away from greatness. But when it works, it works well—Paul's father attempting to write a letter before turning to stone, Professor Meister connecting the dots—at that point, a marvelously fatalistic air descends on the movie—we pretty much know how it's going to end; all that remains are the petty details.
Yes, the makeup effects on the Gorgon are hideously bad, but they have the decency to keep it out of sight for most of the film.
Scream of Fear
Director Seth Holt does a wonderful job establishing an unsettled, shadowy world for the film, one that captures the feel of both Hitchcock and Clouzot. By keeping the camera at a lower level—roughly the level of someone on a wheelchair, Holt constantly reminds us that our perspective is that of Penny's. Despite the unsettling mood of the film, the plot is a bit too derivative of other movies, going all the way back to Gaslight, to be effective.
While none of these can really be called classics, all four movies are enjoyable in their own way. Hammer fans (I'm one of them) will certainly want this set. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice, Scream Of Fear (Aka Taste Of Fear)
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